It's holiday time, which means that it's the season of giving. And no one seems to be more into the spirit of things at this time of year than movie studios. They save some of their biggest releases for this time of year, which is generally a good call for two reasons: they're more readily remembered come awards time and people have extra time for movie attendance as they have extra days off work and holiday vacation. So, let's unwrap a few of these "gifts" and see what the month portends.
December 2005 Forecast
By Kim Hollis
December 2, 2005
The biggest and best presents under the tree
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Long, long before I was ever reading any books by J.R.R. Tolkien, I was heavily into the more accessible and probably kid-friendlier Narnia series from C.S. Lewis. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of those books that I've read time and time again, which has made the characters very familiar and comforting to me. As far as the big-screen adaptation, it sure looks like Walden Media has gotten it right. The CGI is terrific, the scenery is gorgeous, and the child actors appear to have been well-cast. If I'm any indication, the fans of this marvelous book (trivia tidbit: Tolkien and Lewis were the best of friends, but the Narnia series was the source of some contention between them due to the heavy religious allegory) will be out in full force. Another key element to consider is that since this film is considered to be religious in theme and mythology (Lewis was a devout Ulster Protestant), a similar grass-roots campaign is taking place to the one that occurred with The Passion of the Christ. Churches are organizing field trips, and Disney is specifically targeting early screenings to pastors, ministers and priests. This film is going to be a juggernaut in the early going, and should be able to carry on even if word-of-mouth is somewhat questionable.
The last time I saw the original King Kong with Fay Wray, I was about nine-years-old, watching it on a tiny black and white television screen that was full of fuzz. We've come a long way since then, and Peter Jackson, who knocked it out of the park with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, is the man who has given his tender love and care to recreating the tale. I've enjoyed all of Jackson's work, from Dead Alive to Heavenly Creatures to the hobbit features, and I'm hoping that will continue to hold true with the Kong adaptation. With that said, I have some concerns. The trailers for the film have never particularly gripped me, though I think they're shiny enough. There are elements I really like - Kong's facial expressions are exquisite and the quick cut where we see him lunge at a plane from the Empire State Building is awesome. But the actors in the film leave me wanting. I'm not as much of a Naomi Watts hater as many people who write for BOP, but I'm not overly engaged by her performance here. I generally like Jack Black, but I feel as though he might have been the wrong selection here. And worst of all, when we see the humans and creatures interact in all the glory available thanks to CGI, it just looks...hokey. I want to get excited for this film, but I just can't quite get there. Nonetheless, I expect it to be a massive, massive hit.
Memoirs of a Geisha
Anyone who undersells this movie because Spielberg chose to direct Munich instead is going to be in for a shock. Helmer Rob Marshall is no stranger to spectacle, as he was able to direct Chicago straight to an Academy Award win for Best Picture and $171 million at the box office. And like Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha has a built-in audience already. The Arthur Golden book has been extraordinarily well-received and has a devoted fan base. In addition, there are certain legions of Zhang Ziyi fans who would watch a movie where she clips her toenails the entire time. Already the film has received some early awards buzz as it received nine nominations from the Golden Satellites. It looks absolutely gorgeous and has all the potential in the world to be one of the biggest successes of the year.
The stuff you didn't ask for, but turns out to be great
The Family Stone
You know, I hate Sarah Jessica Parker as much as the next guy, but this film actually looks kind of...terrific. I'm really serious. The trailer is just wonderful, and I guess the reason is Rachel McAdams. She's quickly becoming one of my favorite young actresses working today, and her appearances in the previews are wry, sarcastic and hilarious. The presence of Luke Wilson sure doesn't hurt, either (though I always prefer Owen). Along with the three cast members I've already mentioned, the cast includes Craig T. Nelson, the ever-funny Diane Keaton and Claire Danes. Also, perennial "That Guy" Dermot Mulroney is onboard as well. Sure, it's a more or less blatant rip-off of the Meet the Parents concept, but if audiences can be suckered into seeing Yours, Mine and Ours only a few weeks in advance of the *real* Cheaper by the Dozen sequel, there's no reason The Family Stone shouldn't be a hit.
This musical is going to appeal to a niche audience for sure, but that group is certain to propel the performance of this one via positive word-of-mouth and excitement. The original film has a fan base of its own, of course, and you can add to that core audience by including the people who discovered the project when it was turned into a musical for Broadway. The film's creators sagely brought back the two main leads - Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane - who consistently received rave reviews as the musical had its run in theaters. Supporting turns from Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell will help, and creepy Desperate Housewives guy Roger Bart is getting a fair amount of attention for his role as Carmen Ghia.
The stuff your sister got - and you can't understand why she asked for it
Cheaper by the Dozen 2
Oh, I know this film is going to be huge. It's just that I'm sickened by that fact. Every time I see Steve Martin and Eugene Levy debase themselves in a project like this one, part of me dies a little. The trailer gets huge laughs, though, which is all that's going to matter in the end.
Fun With Dick and Jane
You know, I've just never been much of a Jim Carrey fan. He sort of creeped me out while on In Living Color, and I haven't been able to get over it. It doesn't help much that he starred in my most hated movie ever, The Grinch. Still, I'm always willing to give him a shot for some reason, as I've found that he can be quite bearable in the roles that are a little quieter. Those, of course, are few and far between, and Fun With Dick and Jane doesn't look to be one of them. I want to give it a chance because Judd Apatow (my hero) wrote the screenplay, but the trailers and previews don't look good.
Rumor Has It
Bad buzz surrounds Rumor Has It early, though the concept is certainly novel and engaging. A de facto sequel to The Graduate, Jennifer Aniston stars alongside Kevin Costner in a romantic comedy that has all the appearances of being a bit of a mess. The big danger sign was when the original director was removed from the project, and since that time, reports from the film set have been...quiet. Danger.
The mystery presents
Little is known about this Senor Spielbergo film other than the premise, which has the story set in the aftermath of the terrorist assassinations at the 1972 Olympics. The subject matter is obviously going to be downbeat, though that wasn't a problem with regards to Schindler's List. The film is going to have to be an Academy contender in order to get major attention, though.
The early rating for The Matador came in as an NC-17, though that doesn't seem to have been set in stone just yet. The trailers are super funny, and allow Pierce Brosnan an opportunity to embrace his funny side. It's going to be a bit of an unknown in the short-term, though a performance similar to last year's After the Sunset is probably in line.
One of the very first pickups by the new Weinstein Co., this animated film has little advance buzz but an outstanding conceit. It's Red Riding Hood told by the police who are investigating the case after the fact. Hopefully, it will be smart.
Mrs. Henderson Presents
This one has all the hallmarks of being a Full Monty-esque breakout and a good chance at being an Academy Awards contender. The trailer is hilarious and received a great reaction with its target audience when I saw it in the theater. Go, Dame Judy, go!
Another film with a charming trailer, I'm hoping Casanova doesn't disappoint.
The best-received Woody Allen film in years, he's going to get my money solely on the basis of Scarlett Johansson's name in the credits.
Gay cowboys eating pudding? Sign me up! Seriously, though, this film has remarkable buzz and will easily figure as an end-of-year awards contender.
Lumps of Coal
I *loved* the animated series on MTV's Liquid Television. The movie looks nothing short of horrid. I'm not planning to sully my memory of a good thing.
Johnny Knoxville, no one loves you more than I do. This film feels really, really wrong, though. The fact that it's been pushed around the release schedule numerous times sure doesn't bode well, either.
The New World
Okay, I'm just blinded by my hatred for Colin Farrell. I think he's an awful, no-talent hack who ruins any movie where he's present. When it's an insanely long Terrence Malick period piece, I just can't be bothered to care at all.
Michael Bentley's December 2005 forecast
Marty Doskins' December 2005 forecast
David Mumpower's December 2005 forecast